Estate planning plays an important role in everyone’s life regardless of their financial status, age group, family situation, and role in the process. Each person involved in the process contributes greatly to fulfilling the last wishes of the deceased about their assets and their loved ones.
An estate plan, however, can be successful only when the executor of the will knows exactly what their role in the process is. This can be done when the executor knows their duties even before the death of the testator (the person writing the will). Understanding what they should do, in alignment with what the testator wants, can help the executor get started right away.
However, an executor cannot begin their duties right after the death of the testator. They need to follow certain steps before they can get started.
How to Become an Executor of an Estate When there is a Will
Before starting to execute the estate plan of the deceased, the executor needs to formalize the process at a court. The person named executor in the will can begin the probate process only after the court authorizes them to do so.
This is done by following these steps:
- Filling the form requesting to become the executor of the estate
- Submitting supplemental documents like deceased’s death certificate, photo identification of the executor, names and addresses of living relatives
- Notarizing the document
- Filing it for probate at a county clerk or probate court
- Paying a filing fee
- Sending a notice of application to beneficiaries and heirs
How to Become Executor When there is no Will
While the process is straightforward when there is a will, the situation gets complicated if the deceased didn’t leave a will behind or didn’t name anyone as the executor in their estate planning documents.
In such a case, different steps need to be followed. Usually, the court decides who should be picked as the executor based on the state’s intestacy laws. This is usually a spouse or an adult child. In case the deceased does not have a spouse or any adult children, the court will consider other people, like distant relatives and friends, to take the role of the executor of their estate. If no one steps in to take the role of the executor, however, a creditor can be appointed as the executor of the estate by the court.
However, you can be appointed as the executor of the estate even if the deceased’s spouse, adult children, and other high-priority candidates are around. You can do this by obtaining a written waiver from these candidates to be appointed as the executor of the estate.
After someone has been appointed as the executor of the estate, they will receive a ‘letters of testamentary or administration’ from the court that officially confirms their role in the estate execution process of the deceased’s estate. Once this is done, the appointed candidate can proceed with the probate process as an executor named by the deceased would.
Thing to consider before becoming an executor
If you have been named the executor of an estate or are considering becoming the executor of an estate, here are some things to consider that can help you make an informed decision:
While estates with simple assets take a few months to end, larger estates can take years before probate is closed. The executor needs to be certain they can commit their time and effort throughout the process.
- Duties before testator’s death:
Ideally, the duties of an executor start even before the death of the testator. This includes ensuring the testator has an updated list of all assets, etc.
- Duties after testator’s death:
The executor needs to start acting immediately upon the death of the testator like arranging the funeral, filing for probate, etc. Owing to this, the executor has to consider their emotional capacity to carry out the duties promptly after the testator’s death.
- Deal with Beneficiary Conflicts:
Sometimes, the probate process may lead to conflicts between beneficiaries. The executor needs to be prepared to deal with issues like this and act appropriately. Sometimes, the executor may have to represent the estate in court as well.